Editor’s note: This is the second dispatch received on our ancient and unplugged fax machine from someone claiming to be A. Lexus d’Torqueville, who in the afterlife has stumbled across the ‘Big Garage in the Sky’ where the pioneers of the auto industry gather to talk and tinker and, occasionally, to check out what’s become of the industry in which they worked.
One of the guys was saying that he couldn’t believe how long it took for the auto industry to start producing ventilator pumps and other equipment needed to combat the coronavirus epidemic taking place back on Earth. He and a couple of others got to reminiscing about how Detroit shifted from car production to serving as “the Arsenal of Democracy” when the United States entered World War II.
But that led to a broader discussion of automakers and their manufacturing of military materiel for both Allies and Axis and, well, things started to get heated.
Anger is not an emotion much experienced up here beyond the clouds, and a suggestion was made to change the subject to something on which everyone could agree. A few moments of silence ensued, and then Harley Earl and “Pinin” Farina and Virgil Exner and Giuseppe “Joseph” Figoni sang out in 4-part harmony: “How about how ugly cars have become?”
Sacre bleu! Almost immediately, instead of discussing the current state of automotive design, the quartet started debating which of them designed the most beautiful cars. Fortunately, Franco Scaglione got them back on track. Scaglione was the designer of the Alfa Romeo B.A.T. car trio and everyone here pays attention when he talks about car styling.
Though back on track didn’t last very long, only until Scaglione suggested the problem is too few native Italians in the world’s automotive design studios.
At this point, Alexander Issigonis spoke up. He designed the Mini for a very specific time, the Suez Crisis and resulting narrowing of the petroleum supply line. He suggested that what has happened is that car designers are, basically, drawing with one hand tied behind their backs by the onslaught of all the global government regulations concerning everything from occupant safety to fuel economy.
“It must be very hard to design within such restrictions and produce cars that still proclaim each brand’s own promise,” he said.
“Harley, Virgil, you had your fins. Giuseppe, you had your French curves. I had my compact package.
“We designed cars that not only promoted our brands, but our national heritages as well. But today, the industry is global. Everyone around the world has an iPhone, and everyone seems happy to be driving what amounts to an iCar.”